Berlinale Competition title “Return to Dust,” written and directed by China’s Li Ruijun, has been sold to Modern Films for U.K. and Ireland, and BTeam Pictures for Spain. The film was previously picked up by several other European distributors. M-Appeal is handling world sales.
Previously reported buyers include Alambique (Portugal), Trigon Film (Switzerland), Ama Films/Stergiakis Brothers (Greece), ARP (France) and September Film (Benelux).
The film centers on humble, unassuming Ma and timid Cao, who have been cast off by their families and forced into an arranged marriage. They have to combine their strength and build a home to survive.
It was described by Variety’s reviewer Jessica Kiang as an “absorbing, beautifully framed drama.” She writes: “As a portrait of the dying end of a traditional way of life and the rapid decimation of China’s outlying rural communities, ‘Return to Dust’ is potent, often poetic in its encroaching-dustbowl imagery. As a meditation on the rewards of later-life companionship, it is elegiac, blessed with two unusually sympathetic, restrained performances.”
The film was produced by Qin Hong, alongside Zhang Min and Li Yan.
Modern Films’ founder and CEO, Eve Gabereau, said Li Ruijun’s “characters are beautifully-crafted and his storytelling is highly emotive. This is a film for coming out of the pandemic and digging deeply into appreciating what we have.”
Other films distributed by Modern Films this year include the Berlinale Silver Bear winner “Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy” and Oscar nominee “Drive My Car,” both directed by Ryûsuke Hamaguchi.
BTeam Pictures’ co-founder and partner Ania Jones said: “We were impressed by the simplicity and beauty with which the director expresses the growing love and respect between the protagonists, and their struggle to live in harmony with nature in the midst of China’s increasing modernity. It takes us back to the simpleness of sentiments and life.”
BTeam Pictures’ release slate includes “The Mole Agent,” nominated at the Oscars for best documentary feature, “Another Round,” which won the Oscar for best international film, and “Forgotten We’ll Be,” selected at the last edition of the Cannes Film Festival.
Li Ruijun has directed six feature films, which tend to focus on the relationship between people and the land where they live, as well as the rural attitude toward family, life and death in a rapidly changing China. His films are predominantly set in his hometown of Gaotai, with his close friends and relatives acting in them.
His previous films include “Walking Past the Future” (2017), which played in Cannes Film Festival’s Un Certain Regard section, “River Road” (2015), which screened at Tokyo Intl. Film Festival and Berlinale Generation, and “Fly With the Crane” (2012), which played at Venice.